Becoming a Day skipper

Last June, I purchased my beloved ‘White Tigress', a leisure 29'. I had discussed with my father a couple of months prior that I was interested in buying a boat and learning to sail. In fact I dug out some sailing monthly publications from 6 months earlier, so it had been plaguing my brain for some time. We decided that we would ‘leisurely' look at the second-hand boat market and weigh up the pro's and cons of various sizes , makes etc. We initially envisaged that we would look to purchase just before spring in 2008. We purchased the boat a month after Initial discussions. I may have steamrollered this move but it seemed crazy to miss out on the summer weather and sailing opportunities. We sailed her from Newhaven to Brighton to her new home without too much fuss. On our second outing, we faced some testing wave height and in hindsight would consider staying within the safe walls of the marina in such conditions. Upon our return we snapped our tiller off near the entrance, this didn't inspire me with confidence and wondered what I had got myself into. Naturally I am not going to mention how this happened, suffice to say we conjured up additional strength to steer injured tigress into the entrance which is not always a straight forward affair. Once moored I gratefully hugged the ground. Since then we have gone sailing a dozen times or so and even went sailing on new year's day. I think we were the only stupid buggers out there. But we had experienced colder days in December so by all accounts, it felt fair-weather in comparison. It was at this point that I felt it would be good to become more knowledgeable and skilled being a boat owner and responsible for any crew I would have aboard in the future.

And so I looked at the RYA dayskipper shorebased course. There are many sites that have good information about sailing theory. I had sat my shore based day skipper course in November and took a week off work to do this. I passed though I have to admit, it was a real eye-opener. I had no knowledge of navigation and comparable to learning a new language. I really had to work hard to tap into my brain to deal with these new concepts and way of thinking that was required.

And so My father and I agreed that we would take the Day skipper practical course in March 08. We originally thought that somewhere hot like the canaries would be nice and ‘leisurely' (sorry I've done it again) and calming. So where did we end up taking the course? The Solent. Possibly one of the busiest shipping areas in the world. This was a daunting prospect but one that would change rapidly over the coming 5 days of the course and more rewarding than a hot climate with little to do in terms of navigation and pilotage. We arrived on the Sunday evening and arranged our gear and placed food packs etc onto the boat that we would be living aboard. Our skipper was running late and the temperature was becoming colder, which wasn't ideal for sitting around waiting, I was also slightly apprehensive with what lay ahead. Our skipper finally arrived and two other crew on our boat were transferred to another boat in order that a German could to take his yacht master course and exam. This meant that my father and I would need to work a bit harder through the week, but we would also get more personal tuition so we were happy. We left our moorings and motored down the Southampton water in the darkness. I hadn't logged a single hour of night sailing. This was going to be interesting I thought. But no sooner then we had made way, we were referring to charts and identifying buoys and their characteristics to gauge where we were and how to navigate to the Hamble. Using the rules of the road (so to speak) we were passing huge tankers and reading boat lights to determine their operations or any restrictions. I felt at home as I held the tiller in the cool night air. We moored up in the Hamble river at Warsash that first night outside a pub (of course), had some food, a de-brief from our skipper over a couple of pints and then went to bed. The next 5 days then involved some hard but enjoyable work.

Sailing from the Hamble and Staying outside the Folly Inn at Cowes on the second night, and the following night at anchor in a protected inlet. The 3rd day entailed a blind navigation (fog) exercise to Lymington, which was the highlight of the week in terms of what I have learnt from the course. Then we made for Portsmouth and moored off a buoy for the night. The 4th day saw the winds picking up to a force 6 and my passage plans were blown out of the water as we made best course to windward back to the comfort of the Southampton river. On the final night we moored in the Hamble Marina. There the course students met at the pub and we were paid a visit by John Goode. I wont mention the school name for fear of being banished by the editor for in-direct advertising. On the morning after the last night, we were making our way down the hamble and back to the sailing school base. Channel 16 suddenly came to life. A message from the coast guard announced an iminent gale force 9. We swiftly set off. I think the most we experienced was force 8 briefly but it was great for my sailing CV and my own log. A great way to end the course.

We learnt so much from the course and I would urge anyone to do it. The passages and places to spend the night tend to revolve around pubs, which makes a good end to the tiring but enjoyable days. Our Skipper Tutor was helpful and seemed to want a brew a lot of the time (that's tea down in this neck of the woods). We had plenty of food on board and the boat was pretty sturdy although not new by any means. In fact it was a Sadler 34 which looked after us well for the week, even in our force 6 passage from Portsmouth, engaging a vast amount of tacking in order to achieve a line into the Southampton water, whilst avoiding numerous race boats. Anyone for Yachtmaster? Jeremy Malét White Tigress Brighton Marina